Columbus Crew owner: I’ll move team unless — wait, did I forget to come up with an “unless”?

Yesterday morning’s report that the owner of the Columbus Crew, one of the most historically popular MLS franchises, was set to announce that he’d move the team to Austin if he didn’t get a new stadium was a bit weird and unexpected. Then team owner Anthony Precourt made his announcement, and things got so much weirder and unexpecteder:

  • Precourt’s actual statement was vague about what he was looking for, saying only that the Crew’s “current course is not sustainable,” that “we have no choice but to expand and explore all of our options,” and that “MLS in Austin could be an ideal fit.” That covers the first two of the six steps in the stadium-grubbers’ playbook: the obsolescence claim and the non-threat threat.
  • The Crew issued a letter to fans saying, in effect, Thank you for your support and sorry about this, but it’s not you, it’s us. Please buy playoff tickets.
  • Franklin County Commissioner John O’Grady said that Precourt never actually asked for help with a new Columbus stadium, but only said he needed “a better location.” O’Grady told the Columbus Dispatch: “If he needs a Downtown stadium, he should have said something. That’s a weird negotiating ploy.”
  • Austin Mayor Steve Adler emailed the Dispatch to say that he’d love to host the Crew, but “I don’t think there’s support for public funding of a stadium.”

All this points to an owner who either really really wants to move the Crew to Austin no matter what and is using this whole “my stadium sucks” argument as an excuse, or is really really bad at this whole stadium money shakedown thing. Either way, it sucks for Crew fans, who are now facing losing their team to one of the few media markets that’s actually even smaller than Columbus. “I don’t understand the obsession with Austin,” supporters’ club organizer Kevin Glenn told the Dispatch. That makes a whole lot of us.


46 comments on “Columbus Crew owner: I’ll move team unless — wait, did I forget to come up with an “unless”?

  1. He read the book “Ownership 101” up to the part about being brazen but missed the chapter on how you actually have to set some wheels in motion before a new stadium appears. He was thinking there’d be two huge boxes–one from Columbus, the other from Austin–under his tree Christmas morning.

  2. Yes, Crew fans are hardcore and I feel for them. Don’t trust anything Precourt, city leaders or the Columbus Dispatch have to say. What is fact is that that city & County have bent over backwards for the green jackets & Clippers and done zero for the Crew.

      • Your right. But once a city opens Pandora’s box they shouldn’t be picking winners & losers. Instead city officials want to put all blame on owner , when they have created an unfair playing field for the Crew to compete. Emotions aside the owner has a point as much as Crew fans feel betrayal.

    • The County owns the Clippers. So of course the County is going to pay special attention to the health and success of an asset that it owns and that makes it money.

      • Yes, just like golf courses are raking in the cash for municipalities around the country. If the county had to buy the team it’s because the private market passed on it. Gee wonder why ?

        • So basically the local government has a financial incentive to see the Crew fail and leave town. Thanks for pointing out the real bad guys.

          • In this case it looks like it might have been a good financial decision for the county, to purchase the team in the 70s: https://www.bizjournals.com/columbus/news/2016/07/06/once-bought-for-25-000-the-columbus-clippers-have.html

            “The Clippers and Huntington Park, which are run in tandem by the county, finished 2015 with a profit of $1.33 million, driven by $12.4 million in revenue. That’s up $424,000 from 2014, according to an annual financial report.”

          • In Chicago the news media reported that the Blue Demons received 100 million from city to help build arena. When actually the city used money to buy new Farris wheel and the rest went to the Democratic governor campaign. Government has no business running a private business to compete against private business. The Clippers would have been sold in the private sector if it were indeed a profitable business.

          • A financial incentive to see the Crew leave town? Um, come on.

            I really enjoy talking about soccer, but MLS fans on this site really lose their minds in conspiracy theories.

            They bought the team 30 years ago for like 250k. I think that’s a bit odd, but if that’s what they want to do, so be it.

          • It’s not a conspiracy theory if it’s fact that Franklin County is competing with private businesses for the taxpayers entertainment dollar. Government isn’t in the baseball or golf business. It’s in place to provide essential services .

          • BTW, both the Crew and clippers compete for summer concerts and usually the clippers/ Franklin county win with a 7o million taxpayer funded downtown location. So it’s 250k + 70 million + downtown land + years of losses until minor league baseball recent revival. Going to assume that even if team lost money past year the political spin accountant took care of it.

          • So what your saying is that the clippers are showing a profit due to the concert business that they stole from the Crew. WOW… WOW…. WOW !!!

          • You guys are great. “Stole” concerts from the Crew.

            So if you are saying that civic-owned stadiums are a curse upon the MLS landscape, you have now condemned probably 90% of stadiums and arenas in the United States, including MLS stadiums.

            I’m sure you were rightly enraged when the District of Columbia was building a city-owned soccer stadium to compete for concerts with the privately-built basketball/hockey arena. Sure you were.

            Guess what, your team is moving!

          • Crew stadium was built in 1999 with a built in concert stage ! The Clippers only started hosting concerts recently ! Because of their downtown location and better quality facilities that have indeed stolen the Crews 2nd source of income.

          • Guess it may not be a very good concert venue, then, if a stadium built for concerts loses to a baseball stadium.

    • If you polled people who have been to both cities… It would be 95% Austin and 5% Columbus in a vote for which city deserves a MLS team.

      • If you polled people who were investing their own money, I bet most would go with the city that has supported it’s team for 20 years over the city that’s not even sure they want MLS soccer.

  3. Waaaaaay off topic but the MLS needs to look hard at relegation. It seems there are more cities that want and deserve teams than the league can support. Cincinnati, San Antonio, Sacramento, Nashville would all be great additions, but the MLS already has more teams than any other league in the world. Grant 8 expansion cities a team in a first division league with relegation and promotion to begin in 2 years. Give them time to build their fan bases and stadiums (Self-funded like Orlando City I hope) Then in 2020 the top 2 Teams get promoted the bottom two teams in the MLS demoted. More teams playing games that mean something and a better product on the field.

    • But less money for the owners, especially teams that get dropped down. Hard to convince people to invest with that hanging over their potential investment’s head, and hard to get people who have already invested to agree to such a change. Its like saying “it’d be awesome if all these owners would pay for their own stadiums!”. Well… yes… it definitely would be… But good luck getting them to agree to it since its not in their best interest to spend their own money when a better option is easily available.

      • If this were the NBA or NFL I would agree, but this is the MLS where a team contract just 2 years ago and most owners paid next to nothing for their teams and this would expand interest in the game. They could collect expansion fees from 8-10 teams instead of 2 (there is obviously demand for franchises) without diluting revenue in the “prime” league. It would also expand the North American talent pool with more pro academies in more cities. As to your second, point there is no shortage of investors for EPL clubs I suppose Beckham’s deal means he would have to have an MLS club off the bat but other than that I don’t see a problem attracting owners.

    • it’s not exactly ot, because the reason why pro/rel won’t work in the US is that teams need to be completely embedded into the city to make it work. that way, regardless of what tier a team is, there will be community support. that won’t happen if ownership uses the threat of moving as a ploy for public money.

      • I disagree look at the current model for MLS expansion. Orlando City Had 10K Plus fans a game for USL games. Sacramento, Cincinnati and San Antonio are modeling their efforts for MLS the same way. With the carrot of major league promotion out there, fans will take interest and the games will mean something other than a minor league championship. Not to mention owners will spend to make their teams better as it will pay off with promotion.

        • MLS owners are not going to go for relegation. Heck, even owners of the biggest European teams are trying to weaken relegation as much as they can and insulate themselves from having to qualify for the Champions League.

          Relegation is a fun thing, sort of, but is a relic of when teams were basically shoestring ventures that barely paid players. There is an enormous financial difference between a Champions League team and a middling 2nd Division team.

          So to say, “investors” aren’t very vested in the idea of a “good sporting proposition.”

    • At some point (whether it’s franchise 32, 36 or 50 who knows) this type of thing is likely to happen. Every franchise will still be in “MLS”, but the bottom 12 or 16 teams will form a second division.

      Splitting at 24/20 and 12/16 teams would allow for schedule windows that could be used for “local/rivalry” games between regional franchises from the different leagues. These games would make the 2nd div cities feel like they are still in MLS (IE: playing NY or the Galaxy etc) but would not count in the standings of either 1st or 2nd div tables.

      The only other way to manage a 30+ team league is to split the league east/west and have very few interlocking games… this means you essentially have two regional leagues and not one national one.

      I can’t say when, but MLS 1 and MLS 2 will happen at some point. The good thing about the single entity structure is that teams competing in the lower league can still be paid an equal share of the revenues from both leagues (they are still equal partners, just not in the same competitive division), so it doesn’t necessarily mean owner/operators are paying for a 1st div team and getting a 2nd div one.

      On the flip side, at some point the league will run out of markets willing to pay $100-150m, and which can make expansion math work. Having a second division would allow for a lower cost initial entry, then should the team build up and qualify for the 1st division the “remainder” of the full expansion fee would become payable before they move up. Plenty of options for MLS on that front.

      As Jesse Marsh said a few weeks ago, there needs to be some incentive for owners to keep investing in their teams, not just stand pat and cash SUM revenue sharing checks. Two different competitive levels would make that possible.

      • I agree it will happen at some time. But I cannot see it happening yet. It would have been better in many ways. It allows teams to settle to their level of support. Cincinnati would be in MLS right now for example, and the Chivas experiment would have not happened.

        I think the real issue is footprint. That is an MLS watchword. They want to have teams across the country in important media markets. This is not an issue in England, which while there are local stations and newspapers, is one big media market (though it might be an issue in other big soccer nations like Germany). So if the Premire League has 6 teams in London, it is not that big a deal TV wise. If MLS has 4 teams in NY and 3 in LA, but none in Chicago (Fire would have been relegated several times over already) that cuts into TV revenue.

  4. The only sports Austin fans are interested in are high school football, the Texas Longhorns, and the Dallas Cowboys, in that order. The Aztex died a dismal death from lack of support (3200 fan average) and it took years for anyone to come up with a plan, even the dubious one with a stadium 20 miles from anywhere, to replace them. Nobody is going to cough up a couple hundred mill for the stadium this clown wants.

    • 3200 is actually a pretty good attendance for that level of soccer. That like 30000 a game if the Crew relocate. Thanks for pointing that out.

      • 3200 a game at USL level is pretty good indicator of success at MLS level. Toronto team average 1700 a game and when MLS arrived that jumped to 20000 per game.

  5. Like the raiders owner this team is not moving. The raiders were never going to. Move to Vegas this is a scam. Just lime what this owner is doing. The raiders have not changed their name. Nor never will this was to get more fans on the stands and money from their current city which is working. Thank u Vegas for being stupid. Raiders are getting a superior venue at their current home keep buying those Vegas shirts suckers u were never getting the raiders

  6. Ohio stadium is near downtown, seats way more than the MLS needs, and now has permanent lighting. Maybe the Crew should do it as a “homecoming” ?

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ohio_Stadium#Columbus_Crew

  7. Before unleashing a rant, I want to ask if the owner of the Crew have furnished additional information regarding, “The facts and findings surrounding the health of the club dictate that we urgently expand and explore all options to preserve the long-term sustainability of the club,” as noted in their letter to the fans.

    I would love to give the Crew the benefit of the doubt, and hope that someone could point me to a press release or other source that would detail the needs of the club. That way an informed citizenry could decide, on the merits, the request for public funding.

    I imagine I doomed to disappointment. Give us the money, and don’t ask too many damn impertinent questions!

    • It worked for the hockey & baseball team in town. Fact is he’s put a winner on the field and half the stadium is empty. If it were my team & money I wouldn’t have waited so long to make a move.

  8. So PRECOURT is threatening to move his to a city (without a stadium & who won’t build one) if he doesn’t get a new stadium in the city where he has a stadium (and the teams old stadium which is perfectly fine for “the” OSU).

    MAKES PERFECT SENSE, THIS GUY SHOULD RUN FOR OFFICE.

    I especially loved his presser where Anthony PRECOURT repeatedly referred to “PRECOURT sports ventures” like they were a third party referencing the move.

  9. This has been a big topic of discussion in the soccer community. One thing I have seen asserted is that the Stadium was built on the cheap (which it was) and that it was meant to have a life of only about 20 years (which we are coming up to).

    It does have something of a stopgap feel to it to be sure. Ohio Stadium where the Crew had been playing to way way way to big and was going to undergo renovations that made use by the Crew questionable. I recall at the time that this was done to avoid having to move the team back in 1999. So it was done quick. The first time I went to a game there was in 1999 when DC was playing the Crew in a playoff game. I remember being excited and thinking this was the future of US Soccer. And while the stadium has been eclipsed by newer SSS I think it is still a workable arrangement. The issue is the location — when I was there last year for the US – Mexico game everyone had to drive and it took about 90 minutes to get out of the parking lot.

    And I get hat it compares unfavorably to the newer stadiums. Mapfre cost about $28M in 1999 (about $41M today). Audi Field in DC will be about $180M.

    Given the importance of the Crew in MLS history (it was the first franchise) and the fact that business interests in the city have put together a group to either get a new stadium or buy the team, this just stinks to high heaven.

    • As I’ve said before several times, privately built “SSS” in Europe are often far cheaper than their American equivalents. Part of this is because teams generally build outside the city center (where land is cheaper) and the stadiums are far simpler, because in Europe people go to actually watcht the game and not to a restaurant or to watch on an HD screen in a bar.

      My sense is that the stadium in Columbus is better than most in Europe other than the very nicest stadiums in the very biggest cities. Taking 90 minutes to get out is no surprise–ever go to a Revs game?

      The real problem here is expectations. Columbus is a smaller, if still nice city that isn’t a great fit for major league sports. The Crew owner likes the conversation being about whether the stadium is nice enough or not, which keeps him from having to explain what he’s really up to here.

      • I agree with you on the European stadia. Having lived in London and spent too much money at Stamford Bridge and a few other places, it is not really about the amenities but the sport. Yes, they have concessions and club seats and executive boxes, but it is not the same.

        Many years ago my now wife then girlfriend won 2 club seats to the Washington Redskins and then almost brand new FedEx (or was it still Jack Kent Cooke Stadium at the time, I forget). Neither my wife or I are big football fans but hey, it was free. While there we noticed that most of the club seats were empty. Partly it was due to the fact that club seats don’t count against sell outs, so many of the seats had yet to be sold. But partly it was because a good number those with club seats spent most of the game eating and drinking inside on the club level It was a nice late fall day as I recall, not too cold, and sunny. Yet people after shelling out money for club seats (or maybe having someone else shell out money for club seats) were shelling out more money to sit inside and watch the game on TV.

        I could not see that happening in European football.

        As for Columbus, maybe it is not a big league city, but they have supported the Crew and the USMNT and USWNT there. I like the stadium, but then again, I am someone who goes to a game to watch the game. Give me a beer and a brat and I an generally happy. And given that the city and metro area of Austin is smaller than Columbus (though Austin is weirder I take it) would it be a better place for MLS?

  10. And, so it begins.

    City could look to public land for soccer stadium

    https://www.austinmonitor.com/stories/2017/10/city-look-public-land-soccer-stadium/

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